We Are not Trayvon Martin

Dear Community,

While this virtual space is dedicated to my research and writing on new media as well as the Bay Area arts community, I felt compelled to share a tumblr that has been circulating on the Internet. Under the current social and political circumstances (let’s not forget the womyns body being a huge issue at the moment as well), this past weekend has been extremely traumatizing for all people. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity, religion, culture, or sub-culture you identify with, our world is changing in ways I was hoping it would not. Processing the Zimmerman verdict has been difficult. There have been many horrendous things posted on the Internet. I forget how cruel virtual space can be and how eye opening it is that our country thinks about race, gender, and identity in ways that are destructive and unhealthy (I’m basing this on the media and comments I read on news postings, articles, and blog posts). I’m incensed by the lack of sensitivity and the way people conduct themselves in virtual spaces, specifically social media. It’s an extremely tense time for all and let’s not forget about the story of Marissa Alexander who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing warning shots (NOT killing anyone) and these shots were fired to ward off her abuser. I’m trying to process everything that is happening because being a womyn of color downright frightens me.

Yet there is hope. In reading some of the posts that have been submitted to the “We Are not Trayvon Martin” tumblr, I believe this is one of the ways to connect to one another. Some of these posts had me pondering how can we, as a society and culture, evolve to a higher level of consciousness. For a long time, I was convinced that it could be done through the arts. I still hold on to this belief but I know it needs to be done through story telling and narrative. This project is a wonderful way to help facilitate and bridge gaps in understanding each other. I know this is an extremely emotionally charged post (and I am militantly opposed to the structures that hold oppressed people down when it is the law and the system that should protect us). But I wanted to share and invite people willing to engage in telling their own stories. I’m definitely here to read and “listen.”

Love and Light,

Dorothy

I had to post something fun and random since I’ve been fixated a bit too much on art theory and philosophy lately. This past week, as I was walking back home from work and listening to Kanye and Jay-Z‘s reflection on art and artist muses on the track, “That’s my Bi*ch” on collaborative album, ‘Watch the Throne‘, with Kanye West. Jay-Z has taken the liberty to weave lyrics together that offer a speedy discourse on the lack of women of color in the arts while paying homage to his wife, Beyonce. Interestingly, the woman singing the hook in the song is Elly Jackson (aka La Roux) who is, well, not a woman of color. Hmmm. Kanye references Basquiat but briefly.

Now, if you can get over the word, ‘bi*ch’ in the song, it’s quite clever. The lyrics are posted below for your convenience AND Rap Genius (RG) where RG users can offer meanings to hip hop song lyrics (one of my favorites sites!) has a pretty good breakdown of lyrics to this song.

**Please note: I didn’t post a youtube video due to many of the videos being modified and often times take down. However, if you’re at all interested in this post and learning about the song, I’m hoping you don’t mind doing a quick a search for it. Thanks for understanding! 🙂

[Intro: Kanye West]
Uh, hello, can I speak to, uh…uh
Yeah, you know who you are, look
You had no idea what ya dealing with
Somethin’ on some of this realest shit
Pop champagne, I’ll give you a sip
‘Bout to go dumb: how come?
Yeah that’s my bi*ch
That’s my bi*ch
Shorty right there?
That’s my bi*ch

[Hook: Elly Jackson]
I’ve been waiting for a long long time
Just to get off and throw my hands up high
And live my life and live my life
Just to get off and throw my hands up high

[Verse 1: Kanye West]
I paid for them titties, get your own
It ain’t safe in the city, watch the throne
She say I care more about them basquions
Basquiats, she learning a new word, it’s yacht
Blew the world up as soon as I hit the club with her
Too Short called, told me I fell in love with her
Seat by actors, ball players and drug dealers
And some lesbians that never loved ni**as
Twisted love story, True Romance
Mary Magdalene from a pole dance
I’m a freak, huh, rock star life
The second girl with us, that’s our wife
Hey boys and girls, I got a new riddle
Who’s the new old perv that’s tryna play second fiddle
No disrespect, I’m not tryna belittle
But my di*k worth money I put Monie in the middle
Where she at?
In the middle

[Hook]

[Bridge: Justin Vernon]
Silly little vixen, mixes ’til morning, I’m yearnin’, ooh yeah
Do you really think I give a damn ’bout that potion, stop motion, ooh, yeah

[Verse 2: Jay-Z]
Go harder than a ni**a for a ni**a go figure
Told me “keep my own money” if we ever did split up
How can somethin’ so gangsta be so pretty in pictures?
Ripped jeans and a blazer and some Louboutin slippers
Uh, Picasso was alive he woulda made her
That’s right ni**a Mona Lisa can’t fade her
I mean Marilyn Monroe, she’s quite nice
But why all the pretty icons always all white?
Put some colored girls in the MoMA
Half these broads ain’t got nothing on Willona
Don’t make me bring Thelma in it
Bring Halle, bring Penélope and Selma in it
Back to my Beyoncés
You deserve three stacks, word to Andre
Call Larry Gagosian, you belong in moseums
You belong in vintage clothes crushing the whole building
You belong with ni**as who used to be known for dope dealing
You too dope for any of those civilians
Now shoo children, stop looking at her titties
Get ya own dog, ya heard? That’s my bi*ch

A (recent) short paper I wrote on conceptual artist, Sophie Calle, for the course, Contemporary Art: History and Theory taken at UC Berkeley Extension (for Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Visual Arts).

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There’s nothing overly theatrical about Sophie Calle’s work yet the response seems to illicit overwhelming feelings and emotions from the viewer.  From the documentation of sleepers to a man’s description of his life through the experiences of his colleagues, friends and family, Calle’s work emphasizes the absence of the artists to create portraits and capture universal ideas of contemporary life.  However, many people may beg to differ on her observations and speculation of peoples’ lives as a way to create something similar to what the paparazzi does with celebrity life.  Yet, she doesn’t glamorize and she is unapologetic in her creation of these individuals.  Strangely enough, she is mirroring back what is already there just not through the eyes of the subject.  They do that themselves.  Calle’s work, strangely, offers a therapeutic side effect as stated in an article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian:

“Exquisite Pain (2003) was prompted by her then lover’s failure to meet her in New Delhi. On each day of her journey there, she had taken a photograph and written how she was looking forward to seeing him. This became a book, which also included other people’s worst memories – a woman who had given birth to a dead child, a boy hearing his father had died.  Their stories did have a side effect: they made my pain manageable”.

Calle’s work serves as an example that post modern art involves the viewer within a much more voyeuristic perspective while eliminating herself from the artwork and examines the human condition, identity and intimacy.

Throughout Calle’s work, there is a strong sense of detachment between the art and the artist.  Calle presents her work in such a way that there is a definite detachment between the art and the artist.  She depicts this best in her work entitled, The Sleepers (1979).  Detachment from the subject matter allows her work to take on the distance necessary to capture facts necessary for the viewer to form emotions and/or thoughts.  In the sciences, we see the necessity to detach the clinician from the patient, the subject to come to conclusions about disease states and reach some hypothesis that brings the researcher to some idea of standard of care.  To some degree, this is what Calle’s work tries to show the viewer.  That her experiments necessitate a distance for the observer to piece together the connections between the relationship of the artist to her subject in their minds.  To have the viewer engage in the way that Calle was unable to do so.  To show a rift of some sorts.  Weintraub states,

Calle exposes the causes and symptoms of today’s soullessness by identifying various profes sions that serve as proxies for personal relationships.  For instance, psychologists plumb meticu lously preserving “professional distance”.  Memories, motives, passions, fears, and obsessions are ferretted out utilizing the dispassionate tools of science and cognition.  In her best-known work, Calle dramatizes how psychological research has replaced love and affection as the means to access intimate aspects of personality (Weintraub, 66).

Aside from emotional detachment, Calle presents her observations as findings through the most minimal of aesthetics in this particular work.  It has been observed that the camera is her uncongenial tool that she uses to exploit its intrusive lens and accedes to its mechanistic anonymity.  Through it, she formalizes her role as an observer, not a friend or a lover, of her bedroom partners (Weintraub, 67).  As I viewed photographs of The Sleepers (1979), my first impression was a strange sense of intimacy even though the pictures were in black and white and followed one right after the other within columns and rows.  I wanted to know the stories of each person and to be included, somehow, in the room as well.  The minimalist look and feel of the photography provoked me to imagine the relationships Calle may have, inadvertently,  formed through this work.  Even though she separated herself and is showing and telling of the participants, the permanence created within the documentation achieves what Calle was wanting from the viewer – to show the effect of detachment and the ambivalence it creates.  The viewer is unintentionally drawn into an intimate moment that has been made public and to have the viewer create what they will.

Detachment is crucial, Calle creates an unusual dynamic where voyeurism and scrutiny of the subject play an integral role in our desire to know what is unknown.  In the work, Suite Venitienne (1980), Calle follows a man to clandestinely capture a portrait based strictly on his daily activities in the hopes of an adventure or drama.  Classified work, espionage and intrigue pique our collective interest.  From film noir to horror films, individuals seem to seek that which thrills them and excites the senses.  Yet, it’s not common practice to follow people around to see if anything interesting comes to fruition.  Frankly, we leave this activity up to detectives or conceptual artists like Calle.  In Suite, Calle equips herself with the detective paraphernalia of a Grade-B movie and embarks on a thirteen-day escapade that mimicked a romantic melodrama but was devoid of its most essential ingredient-passion (Weintraub, 68).  Only every now and again does one stumble upon something on the street or walking through an empty corridor and serendipitously find something unique (i.e., a receipt, a movie stub, or a note) that we can fathom of a life other than our own.  That is what most of us do from childhood into adulthood.  We imagine when we’re young and as we age, we still imagine.  Yet, what we imagine is usually derived from our own neuroses and inclination to compare and contrast our lives.  Weintraub claims, “The narrative reverberates with the ache of a loveless life.  It is a reminder that the only romantic adventure in many people’s lives is contrived.  Suite Venitienne is an artistic fabrication, but it tells the true story of people whose erotic sensations depend on fantasy (Weintraub, 68).

Although entertaining to some degree, Calle also shows that identity is dichotomous because it is both private and public.  Personal information becomes public for specification and nominal purposes.  Yet, when is it permissible to utilize an identity for the sake of creating art?  Calle oversteps the boundaries and limitations of real world situations to create art work for the masses in such a way that is not too dissimilar to what celebrity writers and inquisitors have been doing for ages.  The only difference is that Calle asks the art world to examine through a different lens, universal ideas of social constructs through self-eradication (as Weintraub titles her essay on Calle’s work).  This dual nature of identity must be seen as a voyeur and she sets this up perfectly through The Notebook Man (1983).  She takes the liberty of creating an investigative report out of a found object – an address book.

Interviewing and photographing the individuals listed in Pierre D.’s address book, Calle gathered information about his professional, social, and personal life.  The results comprise an artwork that took the form of thirty installments published in the Paris daily newspaper between August and September 1983.  The newspaper setting escalated the power of this intrusion.  Art may be a fic tion, but newspaper reports are assumed to be factual (Weintraub, 69).

The use of a an address book and other people’s accounts of an individual to create a portrait and summation of an individual other than the individual themselves is what Calle tries to show may actually be the truth.  Maybe, her ability to investigate the notion of a self through others is meant to show how self-reflective others perceptions may truly be.  This is prevalent in most contemporary art.  The idea that the process and the actual searching and finding of the subject is much more interesting than a final product.  In showing us the personal and intimate moments of a stranger (even herself), Calle shows something universal, our ultimate solitary existence with the compulsion to be interconnected.  Yet, with all the trappings of modern technology, her older still remains relevant in our own examination of how we place ourselves within a community, a culture and within the global landscape.  As one reads in Weintraub’s conclusion of Sophie Calle’s work,

Today’s workplace and home life often deprive people of opportunities for human interaction.  Surveys report that social disintegration is rampant.  Community bonds are rarely established because we move frequently.  Our network of acquaintances is dominated by work, not family.  Single-person households proliferate.  Home is often a refuge from danger and not a center of congenial social exchange.  Televisions supply mealtime conversation.  Hallmark cards express our intimate communications.  The computer, bureaucracy, and the media impersonalize life.  We can dial for shrinks, sex, jokes, and horoscopes.  These are some of the causes.  Sophie Calle documents their effects (Weintraub, 70).

Works Cited

Weintraub, Linda.  Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for Art’s Meaning in Contemporary Society 1970s-1990s.  Litchfield, CT: Art’s Insights, Inc., Publishers, 1996.

Wikipedia entry for Sophie Calle

UK Guardian Article, Sophie Calle: Stalker, Stripper, Sleeper, Spy

Reference and brief description of The Sleepers on Art We Love